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Lawrence Brownlee

World Leading Bel Canto Tenor
and Entrepreneur of the Month

  Performer, Advisor, Innovator, and Jacobs School Alumnus!  

February's Entrepreneur of the month is Jacobs School alumnus Lawrence Brownlee. After being awarded the Masters of Music degree from Indiana University, he went on to win a Grand Prize in the 2001 Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions, and has since gone on to become one of the world’s leading bel canto tenors.

Named 2017 “Male Singer of the Year” by both the International Opera Awards and Bachtrack, American-born Lawrence Brownlee has been hailed by the Associated Press as one of “the world’s leading bel canto tenors.” Brownlee captivates audiences and critics around the world, and his voice has been praised by NPR as “an instrument of great beauty and expression…perfectly suited to the early nineteenth century operas of Rossini and Donizetti,” ushering in “a new golden age in high male voices” (The New York Times).

>> Students: if you'd like to meet Mr. Brownlee, be sure to sign up for his {well-advised} Lunch on Feb, 27 at 12:30pm.

One of the most in-demand singers around the world, Brownlee has performed with nearly every leading international opera house and festival, as well as major orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Academia di Santa Cecila, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, and the Bayerische Rundfunk Orchestra. Brownlee also serves as Artistic Advisor at Opera Philadelphia, helping the company to expand their repertoire, diversity efforts and community initiatives.

Alongside his singing career, Brownlee is an avid salsa dancer and an accomplished photographer, specializing in artist portraits of his on-stage colleagues. A die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers and Ohio State football fan, Brownlee has sung the National Anthem at numerous NFL games. He is a champion for autism awareness through the organization Autism Speaks, and he is a lifetime member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity Inc., a historically black fraternity committed to social action and empowerment.


Project Jumpstart: As an opera singer there is so much to juggle: whether it be character development, musicality, acting, or language fluency. What is your advice for students trying to achieve this type of career with regards to balancing these subjects? What resources should they take advantage of while at IU before making the post-college leap?

Lawrence Brownlee: I used my time at Indiana University to go to as many recitals as possible, and to be involved with as many performances as possible. The immense Jacobs School of Music library was a tremendous resource for me, as it had so many materials that are all a part of preparing yourself for this career. My advice for students is to surround yourself with all the amazing music that’s happening.

Many voice students think you should just go to operas, but I was a spectator and listener at violin recitals, flute recitals, piano recitals, voice recitals, choral recitals, etc. Go to every performance you can, and just take it all in. Let all that music seep into your bones and your being, and you will feel so much more enhanced. IU offers tremendous opportunities for you to absorb all that music, so take advantage of it.

PJ: There are a lot of non-musical skills that we need to use in order to succeed as performers. What have been the most important life skills you have had to hone to build your career that aren’t necessarily taught in the conservatory?

LB: An opera career is not just about getting on the stage and singing, there are a lot of other things that have to happen. I’ve had to develop a sense of business, a sense of self-sufficiency, and a greater sense of understanding of how the world works. Also, knowing how to take care of yourself from a medicinal standpoint is essential, being active and going to the gym, and knowing how to eat well.

Languages are taught in school, but not the practical applications of them, so I’ve had to teach myself that as well. Of course, things have changed since the beginning of my career, with the dependence on technology, but I think these things still hold true, and developing these skills will help anyone interested in a performance career.

PJ: You were recently appointed as an artistic advisor for Opera Philadelphia, specifically for expanding the diversity in repertoire and community engagement. Can you talk about this transition, and how your performing life has brought you to this new job?

LB: This company has been very supportive of my career since the beginning, and they have the heart and the desire to reach out to people. They love the idea of having someone who’s actively performing, and who they feel has achieved a great amount of things, to be associated with their company; to be on the front lines and leading the charge. They’re trying to get new people involved, advocate for new works and expand diversity, and they’re showing the people of the community in a special way that they mean business about wanting to serve them. So, my goal is to be active and be out there.

I am responsible for thinking about events and outreach efforts to try and invite new people and expose them to their first opera. How to get them there, and what to program. It is my responsibility to always try and present what’s best, but also what’s the most accessible to people, so that newcomers will have the desire to return to the theater, and so that they feel like they are a part of that company’s mission and what they are trying to do.

PJ: Can you explain the importance of bringing contemporary subjects and repertoire into the opera house and why this has become a part of your focus?

LB: I always follow Renée Fleming’s advice, which is that the only way we can ensure that opera and classical music stays around and thrives, is to continue to create new works. And also, I feel like the people of our time in history have something to say, and it should be documented. We should all help in contributing to the wonderful music library of history, so that people in 2030 and 2040 can look back and feel like the work from the beginning of the 21st century lives on. Just like Puccini, Wagner, and Verdi talked about current subjects and issues in their time, we should all help and collaborate to make art about our stories, so that people can look back on this time and understand us in a better way.

PJ: Opera Philadelphia has been truly paving the way for keeping relevancy in the arts and engaging in the community. Can you highlight what about Opera Philadelphia has you excited for the future?

LB: I love what they’re doing. I think they’re taking interesting subjects that are highly relatable and current, and inspirational. Some are still historical, but they are striving to diversify what is being put on stage. They’re keeping interest alive and are on the cutting edge; and they are giving young composers and directors and writers the opportunity to develop their talents. It is an important part of creating a lasting legacy for Opera Philadelphia, and I am excited that so many people are taking notice of it and supporting it.

PJ: What is your advice for artists that want to continue their craft, but also pursue other interests such as your work in your new position? How do you balance the time to be able to do both and maintain a personal life?

LB: You have to follow your heart, and what it is you want to do. I’m very fortunate with what I’ve been able to establish thus far in my career, and I’m very happy about it. But now I’m excited to do other projects, such as taking on this position as artistic advisor. There are a lot of other people who will be involved with singing and not do it at the same level that I do, and they are perfectly happy with that. One of my very best friends trained as a singer, and is now the owner of a very successful trucking company. He is also on the board of Dallas Opera, and sings in the Dallas Opera Chorus. So you can see that he continues to be involved in the arts and be supportive of it. Even if you don’t pursue singing as a career, you can still contribute, such as supporting the arts financially, or just leading people. There’s a place for everyone who has a passion and love for this great art form to be involved.

It is hard to balance the time, and I have limited family time because of the demands of my career, but I constantly strive to make the most of whatever time I do have with family and friends, and be present in the moment. And even when I’m on the road, I’m always reminding myself that I have a life outside of my career. My advice is to aim to be a good person who enjoys what is in front of you, and just make the most of your time with whatever it is you’re currently doing.

PJ: Finally, how are you helping to expand the diversity efforts and what advice would you give to younger musicians that wish to engage with their community?

LB: I’m helping by reaching out to several organizations, such as my fraternity that was founded at IU, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., and other organizations that I have affiliations with to invited them to performances and let them know that someone who was a member of their community has gone on to be involved with performing in the world’s greatest theaters. I reach out and remind them that I am just like them: I am a person with a similar background. It is important to these organizations to see someone that looks like them, who is supportive and appreciative of them, reach out about this art form. I want to strip away the stigma of what it means to go to an opera, or to be an opera singer. I want them to realize that this is an art form they can love and appreciate if they just give it a chance.

If you want to engage with your community, my advice would be to find opportunities for yourself. If you know a church, or have an affiliation with an organization or a community center, present what it is you do to them. Present a recital. Have an afternoon lunch recital series at a community center; have an art songs concert. You can be the biggest promoter of your talent: the opportunities are out there.

Come meet Lawrence in person in our {well-advised} lunch!
February 27, 2018 | 12:30-2:00pm | MAC Mezzanine.
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